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Q. Every one of my customers is buying less this year than last year. My sales are down. What can I do?

Copyright MMIX, by Dave Kahle

A. You really have two choices.  The first, which, unfortunately, is the solution to which most companies and sales people currently subscribe is this:  Do nothing differently, complain a lot and hope that things change.  Maybe the government will fix everything.

The second, which is my recommendation, is this:  Move outside of your comfort zones, become a whole lot more strategic, thoughtful and better at what you do, and do some things differently.

Begin by analyzing your market to identify where your opportunity lies.  Unless you have 80 – 90 percent of the total market in your area, you have opportunity.

Typically, you’ll find that there is market opportunity within your current customers, as well as opportunity in prospects who do not currently buy from you.  Collect information about both groups so that you can make good decisions about where your time is best invested.  Then, prioritize those prospects and customers based on their potential.  Visit www.salestimemanagement.com for lots of resources to help you do this.

Then, strategically develop plans to gain more market share from each of these two sources. 

Proactively create the agenda for the conversations between you and your customers.  For example, if one of your customers is buying half of their purchases from you and half from someone else, identify specifically what they are buying from your competition, and develop plans to gain that business.  Ask yourself, “What would it take for them to buy it from me?”

Don’t settle for the simple answer “lower price.”  Think more deeply, uncover deeper motivations in the customer and answer that question, product by product, category by category, for everything they are buying from someone else.  Here’s a great question to ask, “What has to change for us to do more business here?”

Listen to their answer, and respond appropriately.  Put together specific, persuasive offers to each customer and methodically present them to each customer.  Show them, specifically, why they should do more business with you.

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You are not done yet.  Understand the fundamental sales equation:  Relationships = opportunities = projects = money.  In other words, the quantity and quality of your relationships equals the quantity and quality of your opportunities, and those opportunities develop into projects (purchasing cycles) and those projects turn into sales. 

If you want to sell more, you must develop more and bigger projects, which develop from more and bigger opportunities, which emerge from more and higher quality relationships.

If your sales are down, either you aren’t very competent, (in other words, you are not very good at turning relationships into money) or you need to increase the quantity and quality of your relationships.

Work on two parallel paths:  If all the key decision makers and influencers in your current accounts don’t know you, then work hard to create those relationships.  At the same time, look outside your group of current customers, and create relationships with prospects.  In other words, work diligently, methodically and systematically at creating new relationships and thereby, new customers.

I realize that for a percentage of sales people, this sounds pretty basic.  If that’s the case with you, there is power in refocusing your efforts on these fundamentals and work at doing each of them better.  For you, the issue isn’t doing things differently, it is doing them better.

There is another group of sales people for whom all of this sounds too different and too far outside of your comfort zones and skill set.  This is not how you are accustomed to doing your job.  Remember where we started, “Move outside of your comfort zones, become a whole lot more strategic, thoughtful and better at what you do, and do some things differently.”  If this is new and uncomfortable for you, then the next year or so will be one of the most challenging of your life.  You’ll need to diligently work at developing these practices.

You may want to look at my coachinar series as a way to get help.

The world is full of people who will tell you that success in this environment is a matter of “secrets” or simplistic solutions.  I wish that were the case.  Unfortunately, sales success is the result of years of hard work, constant improvement, and thoughtful and diligent efforts.  If you are serious about wanting to change your circumstances, you’ll need to begin to change yourself.

Dave Kahle has trained tens of thousands of B2B salespeople, sales managers and business owners to be more effective in the 21st Century economy. He's authored nine books, and presented in 47 states and seven countries. To access Dave's training, insights and tools online, visit The Sales Resource Center. Visit www.davekahle.com to check out a seminar near you.

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